The 15th Northern Junior Championship presented by The Golf Performance Center began today at the New Haven Country Club in Hamden, Connecticut and as initial cloudy skies gave way to bright sunshine, the over 100 year club once again proved it is still a stern test of golf. As first round play wrapped up and the sun set behind the large leaderboard near the 18th green, some of the game’s brightest young stars claimed the top spots heading into Wednesday’s final round. In the Boys Championship, Angelo Giantsopoulos of Richmond Hill, Ontario and Thomas Downing of Holliston, Massachusetts share the overnight lead after rounds of two under par 68. In the Girls Championship, Catherine McEvoy, Virginie Ding, and Selina Li lead the field after posting three over par 73.
In what has become a bit of a tradition, for the third straight year the opening round of the Northern Junior was once again delayed due to lightning and heavy rains. With a 45 minute delay, some players found themselves with some extra time to warm up before their rounds, while the dedicated and devoted staff of Northern Junior volunteers, rules officials, ball spotters and live scorers had a bit of extra time to find their positions on the course as well.
The Boys Championship is sure to be a tightly fought battle in Wednesday’s final round, with sixteen players within four shots of the lead. Canada’s Angelo Giantsopoulos will be one of two overnight leaders trying to capture the Northern Junior title, and after playing his final five holes in three under par, he should have plenty of confidence and momentum heading into the final round.
“I admit I got off to a bit of a slow start. I just couldn’t get my irons shot very close to the hole, and I kept catching a lot of ridges with my approach shots, so my ball kept rolling away from the hole,” said Giantsopoulos. But golf is a game of patience, if nothing else. The rising high school senior made his first birdie of the day on the difficult par 4 14th and backed it up with another on the 15th. After pars on 16 and 17, he came up just short and right of the par 5 18th green in two shots.
“I knew I couldn’t miss there, to the right of that green. Of course I missed there and was left with a really difficult shot. I hit a great one up there to about four feet and made it. That was a huge confidence booster.”
But Giantsopoulos wasn’t the only one to post 68 in Tuesday’s opening round. Massachusetts native Thomas Downing carded three birdies and three bogeys and sat at even par for the day when he stepped onto the par 5 18th tee. After a solid drive, Downing gambled on going for the green in two.
“I had 265 into the green and hit a pretty solid 3 wood, but it just caught the right greenside bunker. From there I just tried to hit a good bunker shot. Fortunately, I hit a really good one,” said a smiling Downing. He did better than really good, holing the fifteen yard shot for an eagle to get into the clubhouse at two under par. Like Giantsopoulos, Downing is also a rising senior in high school.
Just one stroke back is Robert David of Lafayette, Louisiana. David’s round of one under par 69 began with a hot start, getting to three under par through six holes. A string of three bogeys in a row on the back nine brought him back to even par before a wonderful birdie on the short par 3 17th got him back in red figures.
A group of four players sit at even par: Ryan Lee of Norwood, New Jersey, Luca Jezzeny of Furlong, Pennsylvania, Cole Anderson of Camden, Maine, and Jake Avery of Avon, Connecticut. Another two players share eighth place at one over par, while Matthew Stafford, recipient of the 2016 Ryan Lee Memorial Scholarship, sits in a tie for tenth place after a 72 in the opening round.
In the Girls Championship, Catherine McEvoy of Riverside, Connecticut leads the home state contingent and will look to capture her first Northern Junior crown. McEvoy, who will join the Michigan State Spartans women’s golf team this fall, was pleased with her opening round despite a closing bogey on 18.
“I drove it really well today which is really important on this golf course. That put me in good position to make a few birdies early in the round, and fortunately I made some nice par saving putts as well.”
Also at three over par are Selina Li and Virginie Ding, both hailing from Hong Kong, China. Li posted an impressive even par 34 on the front side before carding a three over par 39 on the inward half. Ding’s round had a distinctly different tone. She caught fire on the back nine and carded birdies on three of the final seven holes to post 73.
Both Li and Ding will look to become the first foreign champion of the Northern Junior, but they will have to fend off Michelle Lee, also from Hong Kong, and Katie Lee of Ringoes, New Jersey, who both posted fine rounds of 74 on Tuesday afternoon. At five over par are Christine Shao from Green Brook, New Jersey and Daphne Chao from Shanghai, China. With so much young talent from around the world competing for the both the Boys and Girls Championships, Wednesday’s final round should be an exciting finish to a wonderful week of golf.
Widely regarded as one of the top private golf courses in New England, New Haven Country Club has a long history of hosting the area’s top amateur championships. An incredible sixteen Connecticut Amateur Championships and seven Connecticut Open Championships have been contested over the Robert D. Pryde and Willie Park Jr. design, further adding to the history and honor surrounding this year’s championship. The 15th Northern Junior Championship field features 123 players from 24 different states, provinces, and countries.
The final round of the 2016 Northern Junior will begin tomorrow, August 3rd at 6:45 AM, with the leading groups teeing off between 11:30 AM and 1:00 PM. Admission and parking at New Haven Country Club are free and spectators are encouraged to attend.